Written evidence submitted by Sport England
Sport England is an arm’s length body of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and a National Lottery distributor body, with the responsibility in England to transform people’s lives by getting them active and playing sport. We are committed to using our advocacy, insight and investment of Exchequer and National Lottery funding to harness the wide-ranging benefits of sport and physical activity for individuals and communities across the country.
- There are very significant risks to long-term participation levels in grassroots sport and physical activity which must not be ignored. Covid-19 has increased the scale, breadth and precariousness of these risks, with sport and activity in the community, and the viability of some of the clubs and community groups that enable it, facing more substantial challenges in the short, medium and longer term as a result.
- Sport England has taken decisive action to mitigate many of these risks as far as we are able, including being as flexible and responsive with our own resources and investing £230m of Exchequer and National Lottery funds. However we recognise that given the ongoing uncertainty and restrictions further action and additional support is likely to be required to help community sport and physical activity to endure the current pandemic and especially to ‘learn the lessons of now’ and seek to be best placed to help the population to be active and enjoy all the benefits that this offers long into the future. We are working closely with Government on what action might be required.
- Community sport and activity generates £85.5 billion of social and economic value in England, and it is vital that grassroots sport and activity infrastructure is protected. There is an opportunity to establish sport and physical activity as a crucial pillar at the heart of our communities, embedding activity across our local systems as we collectively recover from Covid-19, and helping to optimise the long-term health, wellbeing and social development of the population.
- Organisations across the sport and physical activity sector have transformed their governance since the creation of the Code for Sports Governance by Sport England and UK Sport in 2016. We continue to support partners’ proactive, iterative improvements over and above the Code through our partnership with the Chartered Governance Institute and other ongoing support.
- Where they are revenue-generating, elite and professional sport should seek to support their grassroots network. Grassroots sport makes an invaluable contribution to their success – most notably via significant talent development – and the success of elite and professional sport is fundamentally dependent on the strength, scale and security of their grassroots networks.
Q: Are current sports governance models fit for purpose?
A Code for Sports Governance
- Following the launch of the Code for Sports Governance by Sport England and UK Sport in October 2016, organisations across the sport and physical activity sector have made significant progress in improving and strengthening their governance models to ensure they are well governed and run effectively.
- The Code set out the levels of transparency, accountability and financial integrity required from all organisations receiving Exchequer or National Lottery funding from Sport England or UK Sport from April 2017 onwards. With three tiers of requirements, the Code is proportionate, expecting the highest standards of governance from organisations requesting the largest public investments.
- Sport England and UK Sport created the Code to improve the long-term sustainability of the sport and physical activity sector, giving organisations the tools to run themselves well and to professionalise their governance practices. It marked an important behavioural change for sports organisations, moving from seeking to comply with mandated instructions, to the sector owning and driving their governance in a more sustained and proactive way.
- The Code was well-received across the sport and physical activity sector and has driven substantive changes to the sector’s governance practice over the past four years. 249 organisations have been assessed as compliant (or are currently in assessment phase) at Tiers 2 and 3 – the two highest levels - with data showing a particular increase in female representation on boards of organisations surveyed: in 2018, three-quarters reported meeting the 30% gender representation target, with the average board comprising 40% women.
- Of the 249 organisations compliant at Tiers 2 and 3, we have seen several start to cascade their good governance down to their respective community networks, introducing or exploring new frameworks at a regional or local level. National governing bodies of sport have engaged most consistently here, with the Football Association, the Lawn Tennis Association, British Cycling and British Fencing, amongst others, leading this practice.
- Whereas Tiers 2 and 3 of the Code apply to those receiving £250,000 - £1 million and over £1 million respectively, Tier 1 is the lowest tier of requirements, and applies to all organisations receiving up to £250,000 Exchequer or National Lottery funding from Sport England or UK Sport. This tier applies most directly to grassroots sports clubs and community organisations across the country who are awarded funding by Sport England, and thousands of grassroots sports clubs and community organisations have achieved compliance to date.
- Sport England and UK Sport are continuing to progress our work around the Code and are currently carrying out a review to explore opportunities to develop the framework further. This includes considering a greater focus on diversity and inclusion (including whether further targets should be introduced), a general evaluation of other elements based upon four years operating the Code and checking latest best practice in governance. The review is set to be completed, and a new and updated Code published, in spring 2021.
- As part of the consultation for this review, we are also seeking to gather more feedback on the impact of the Code to date, particularly around board diversity, and will be able to share more information with the Committee here in early 2021.
Further sector support to develop good governance
- The Code for Sports Governance is Sport England’s flagship programme to improve the governance of the sport and physical activity sector, however we are also delivering other programmes of note here.
- Earlier this year, Sport England partnered with the Chartered Governance Institute to establish the Sports Governance Academy. Launched in April, the Academy was designed to support those interested or working in governance across the sport and physical activity sector, sharing resources, learning and networking opportunities to help them embed good governance across their operations. It has engaged 224 organisations to date.
- Since September 2019, Sport England and UK Sport have been working with Perrett Laver to identify and develop a network of senior, experienced candidates from a range of backgrounds, including Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, disabled and LGBT+ to help organisations develop more diverse boards.
So far there are 172 individuals (65% Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) in the network and 33 appointments made to sports boards.
- We have made a £500,000 governance support fund available to support partners and the wider sector to deliver initiatives aimed at improving their governance too. This provides individual grants to organisations to support specific projects like the regional or local governance frameworks mentioned in paragraph 10, or wider governance initiatives.
- Most recently we are exploring possible guidance and support for smaller grassroots clubs or community organisations around incorporation, and how they become formally constituted in a way which provides structure and important protections for their operations.
- Crucially, and linked to this, Sport England and our partners recognise the importance of a well-governed organisation – whether at a national, regional or local level – in order to optimise their resilience and their ability to respond to a changing or crisis environment, like that which Covid-19 presents. We are committed to working to support the sector to further develop good governance, clear and robust financial and risk management practices, diverse representation and effective stakeholder management.
Q: At what level of sport should Government consider spending public money?
- Sport England’s new strategy will be published in January 2021 in a context that confirms the need to adapt our approach to reflect the realities we’re facing now and the future we want to build.
- We have spent much of the past year consulting on a new, ambitious strategy for the next decade. What we have heard back is very much in line with the Government’s ambitions – that sport improves physical and mental health, it improves human capital by bringing communities together and can play a central role in in levelling up, tackling the inequalities seen by many simply because of where they live or their background.
- We want to lead from the front, to shout from the rooftops about the power of sport and physical activity and its amazing ability to transform people’s lives for the better. The major themes of our emerging strategy will be to:
- Recover and reinvent the sport and physical activity sector, following the pandemic, as a vibrant and sustainable network of organisations providing opportunities that meet the needs of different people
- Strengthen the connection between sport and physical activity and health and wellbeing, to enable more people to live an active life so they can live and age well
- Create positive experiences for children and young people to build the foundations for an active life
- Strengthen communities by focusing sport and physical activity’s ability to create greater community development and social integration
- Create the places and spaces that make it easier for people to be active
- We will continue to focus the sport and physical activity sector’s collective attention and investment in catalysts for change that are needed to turn our vision of a healthy, active society into action. These include: high quality data, insight and learning; strong leadership and governance; the power of people; innovative models and digital deliver and effective investment models.
- We cannot, however, achieve this without Government support because Exchequer investment directly underpins our success. Sport England currently receive just over £97 million in Exchequer investment that is primarily used to directly fund a large number of organisations, from the largest National Governing Bodies down to the small organisations, who help us provide opportunities for individuals and communities who typically struggle with inactivity.
- As the committee has previously reported in your inquiry into the social impact of participation in culture and sport, it is important that attention is afforded across Government to maximise the contribution that sport can make to a range of policy objectives. For example, the Government’s current strategy, Sporting Future, highlights the public spending in local authorities as a significant contributor to sport and physical activity in England, as do many other strategies, green and white papers across departments including those on crime prevention, childhood obesity, active travel and social integration.
- In return for government’s ongoing commitment to supporting sport and physical activity, new independent research undertaken by Sheffield Hallam University estimates that every £1 spent on sport and physical activity generates an economic and social value of £3.91. Sport and physical activity is therefore a high-performing and well evidenced investment that drive positive outcomes for individuals and communities.
- Continued investment can reduce the burden on key public services with social returns with an estimated value of £9.6 billion from improvements in our nation’s physical wellbeing and £41.8 billion from improved mental wellbeing. In real terms, the sport and physical activity sector’s ability to get people moving improves our physical health with 30 million fewer GP visits, preventing falls that lead to 21,000 hip fractures and impact the health and care of older adults, and reduce workplace absenteeism and improve productivity by preventing 1.5 million cases of back pain.
- Most recently we have also established our role in supporting the social prescribing agenda, including influencing through the National Academy for Social Prescribing and facilitating the delivery of a physical activity and sport training workshop to link workers including through NHS England’s regional link worker training events, designed to ensure that physical activity advice and support is embedded as part of link worker training opportunities. The Richmond Group of charities have also produced innovative documentation to support the sport and leisure sectors. For example, together with Alzheimer's Society, we have created a Dementia-friendly sport and physical activity guide to create more to create more opportunities for those affected by dementia to be active.
- With the nations physical and mental health at risk during the pandemic, strengthening SE’s connection to the health and wellbeing agenda, across a range of sectors, is a clear objective for us. This has also been surfaced in our recent strategy engagement with partners and is likely to become more important as the full impact of Covid-19, on the nation's health, will begin to show.
- Continued investment can also help to strengthen communities across England and stimulate local and national economic recovery because an active nation helps to support approximately 285,000 jobs and adds £13.8 billion to the UK’s economy.
- Sport England is privileged to receive direct Exchequer investment and works closely with officials in DCMS and other departments to facilitate better cross-Government relationships. To fulfil the ambitions of our new strategy, public spending across Government will continue to be essential.
Q: What are the biggest risks to the long-term viability of grassroots sport?
- Amidst the challenges of the current pandemic, there have been inspiring moments of humanity, with sports clubs, community groups and their volunteers mobilising to support those most in need.
- The value of sport and physical activity, and its importance in supporting the health and wellbeing of the nation, has never been greater. The emphasis on being active as part of the government’s core messaging throughout this crisis has been very welcome, but the intermittent clarity around where and how people can be active has presented challenges for some.
- Sport and physical activity’s grassroots networks will continue to play a key role in supporting society during the pandemic and in our recovery from it. However, these organisations will continue to face significant financial and operational risks into the future and we would urge the Committee to recognise their efforts to return to play safely.
Changing consumer and participation habits
- Our most recent Active Lives data shows the scale of change in grassroots participation in sport and physical activity. Though activity levels were growing before the start of the national lockdown and were on course to reach record highs, during the first two months of lockdown there were 3 million fewer active adults, compared with the same period a year ago.
- Further insight commissioned by Sport England and led by Savanta ComRes has routinely interrogated changing attitudes and behaviours further since the start of the pandemic. Initially commissioned as a weekly survey at the start of April, we have sought to use this research to explore the levels and types of activity being undertaken by the public amidst lockdown, how people were feeling about being active and other key questions.
- Since June, this research has been carried out on a monthly basis, and we have captured significant evidence of how the public have responded to changing restrictions. The most recent survey was carried out between 23-26 October (during the three tiers of local restrictions, and prior to the government’s 31 October announcement of new national restrictions), and showed activity levels at their lowest since we started the survey in April. Only 24% of adults are doing regular physical activity (30 minutes on 5+ days in the last week), compared to record levels of 63.3% of adults prior to the pandemic.
- There are several factors considered to be affecting this fall in activity levels: increased anxiety and safety concerns; economic decline; continued disruption to work and lifestyle patterns, and more.
- The importance of participants feeling safe and secure in order to even consider a return to being active cannot be understated. Covid-19 has had a profound effect on people’s psychological wellbeing: the ONS Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (14-18 October) reported 36% of adults saying that they had high levels of anxiety – higher than we normally see. Many people have experienced increased stress, anxiety, illness and bereavement, with the cognitive burden here, and that of competing demands, inadvertently diverting attention away from physical activity and exercise.
- There were also 2.4 million new Universal Credit claimants between 13 March and 14 May 2020, public debt increased by 20.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the year to July 2020, and the Bank of England expects unemployment to peak at 7.75% in the middle of next year. Reductions in public sector and consumer spending are expected as the economy contracts, and this will inevitably impact the sums spent on (and therefore demand for) leisure.
- Meanwhile ongoing disruption breaks consumers’ habits and makes it incredibly challenging to form new ones. We cannot assume that people will revert back to their previous behaviours in a new Covid-19, or post-Covid-19 world. Digital engagement has been a key feature of the sector’s response to date, however there are indications that the novelty here may be starting to decline. Grassroots sport and activity must be careful not to revert to previous behaviours and ways of working as the norm.
- It will be vital for sport and physical activity to be agile and flexible in the coming months and years. An ability to respond at pace, and to reach deeper into their communities, will be crucial to the survival of grassroots sport long-term. Local councils and leisure trusts are exploring what service redesign may look like, and how future operating models can be developed collaboratively. It will be important for wider grassroots sport to do the same.
- But this does not mean going back to where we were but sustaining a crucial supply side for the future. Sport England wants to help sport and physical activity to modernise experiences and more inclusive and more resilient for the future. In our new strategy we are focussing on being innovative in our approach to tackle deep-rooted systemic challenges that have existed for too long and act as a convener bringing people together around the biggest challenges and opportunities to ensure that national and local perspectives are brought together to join things up to be more effective.
Impact of operational challenges on inclusion and equality of access
- Beyond these direct financial and operational risks, we are wary of the potential impact that operational challenges may have on the protection and delivery of activity that is inclusive and accessible to everyone. This may be one indirect outcome emerging from a shift in focus towards more commercial or revenue-generating operations, and may pose a real risk to widening inequalities.
- Groups who have long found it hardest to be active for example, disabled people or people with long-term health conditions, the over 70s and people from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups, have faced major challenges without the support of organised sport and access to facilities. We are acutely aware – which is why it is key focus for our forthcoming strategy - that prior to the pandemic additional inequalities in sport and physical activity were very evident and this has been exasperated further by the pandemic, with women consistently less active than men, and people from lower socio-economic groups more likely to be inactive than those from more affluent backgrounds.
- We should be mindful of the impact that this, potential digital exclusion and other indirect outcomes may have on the health and wellbeing of specific demographics of the population. Savanta ComRes data shows a significant proportion of people continue to use exercise to manage their physical health (65%) and mental health (62%), although both measures have fallen from their peak in May-June.
- The financial sustainability of grassroots sport and physical activity is a concern for Sport England. We drew the Committee’s attention to this as a long-term risk for the sector in our written evidence to the Committee’s recent inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors. As the pandemic continues to disrupt consumer behaviour, Sport England expect financial challenges to increase as reserves are used up.
- Sport England has now committed more than £220 million in sector support packages, and crucially also offered substantial flexibility on how existing funding can be utilised to support more immediate needs of key partner organisations. Along with measures introduced by Government, these have mitigated some of Covid-19’s immediate impacts on short-term cashflows, but these cannot keep the grassroots sport sector in good financial health in the medium to longer term.
- Grassroots sports clubs and community sport organisations have experienced immediate losses of income as a result of reduced trading, losses in service delivery income and reduced membership.
- Restrictions have contributed to an average 27% loss or expected loss of members across national governing bodies of sport (NGBs) since the start of the pandemic, and though some of these members may yet return, this is far from guaranteed. We can reasonably assume that this loss of membership has been driven in part by the wider economic impact of Covid-19, with a general economic decline and increased unemployment affecting consumer spending habits.
- Some NGBs have been able to make their own emergency Covid-19 grants and loan facilities available to their grassroots networks, with the ECB, the LTA, the RFU, British Rowing and Badminton England, amongst others, mobilising to support their affiliated clubs. More informal community sport and activity and mass participation events like Parkrun have been similarly affected and must not be forgotten here. It is the case that the vast majority of activity in this country is done informally – whether that is running, swimming, walking or fitness and exercise. Sustaining that is every bit as crucial to the long term health and wellbeing of the nation as more traditional organised sport.
- The majority of grassroots sports clubs exist on a hand-to-mouth basis. They have very limited reserves, and the culture of most as voluntary run organisations, means that they do not want to be seen to be charging participants more than needed to cover basic running costs. For clubs who are asset owners, restricted activity also halts their primary income stream whilst required expenditure persists.
- Leisure Trusts and Operators are facing substantial financial challenges too, and we are concerned by the threat of their decline over the medium-term. Though councils and the leisure sector are working incredibly hard to continue to support providers, the overwhelming pressure on local authority funding has made this difficult for many, who have not been able to meet the needs of leisure trusts.
- The government’s recent announcement of a £100 million fund to support public leisure facilities was most welcome, but the new national restrictions announced on 31st October present a continued threat to the longer-term resilience of these assets. The financial viability of key leisure infrastructure remains a significant challenge, and may in turn pose a real risk to population health.
Dependence on a fatigued volunteer workforce
- There is a real challenge for the sector around the professional and volunteer workforce required to enable grassroots sport to survive the current crisis, and, in due course, to thrive again.
- There have been significant redundancies announced across national governing bodies and leisure operators since the start of the pandemic. Approximately 57% of NGBs expect to make some professional roles redundant, and though a smaller proportion of Sport England funded partners are not expecting to make any redundancies, these are typically more financially dependent on public funding and were therefore more protected by the flexibilities Sport England announced in March.
- The average loss of roles across those organisations making redundancies is 19%, otherwise equating to approximately 9% of the entire funded NGB professional workforce. The biggest losses have been seen within medium to large, more commercially driven NGBs, many of whom have been forced to furlough or make redundant non-revenue generating community-focused sport development staff. This has resulted either in additional pressures on the remaining workforce, or in some cases an absence of whole grassroots-focused teams.
- Meanwhile, grassroots sport and community organisations are facing challenges to recruit and retain enough volunteers to support their delivery. Despite the best efforts of many volunteers across the country, the sport and physical activity sector is becoming increasingly reliant on a smaller number of volunteers, as volunteer numbers fall.
- This was already an issue emerging pre-Covid – sport and physical activity has traditionally been dependent on a disproportionately high number of older adults volunteering to support grassroots activity. Prior to events of this year, the sector had started to make real strides in limiting its dependence on older volunteers, but this transformation will take time, and concerns from young and old alike about returning safely to their roles are preventing some from doing so. 14% of volunteers have significant anxiety about returning to volunteering, and a majority of NGBs are predicting a loss of volunteers, some up to 25% of their volunteer workforce.
- We must recognise the importance of volunteer’s contributions and be very wary of volunteer fatigue and burnout. Grassroots sport’s dependence on a smaller pool of professional and volunteer workforce will inevitably put more pressure on them to maintain consistent delivery. There is a risk that these increased pressures will wear down even the most committed volunteers and cause volunteer numbers to decline faster.
Availability of and access to sport and leisure facilities
- Access to appropriate facilities has been a critical issue and one of the biggest barriers to reopening for many sports. It will remain a pressing issue long-term, as apprehension about declining facility stocks continues.
- Sport England are concerned about the number of formal facilities and informal places and spaces available for people to get active and to take part in grassroots sport, whether leisure facilities, school facilities for community use or public green spaces.
- Whilst leisure facilities have been permitted to open since July, financial pressures have prevented many local authority facilities from opening. Just 46% of local authorities surveyed by Sport England reopened their leisure facilities at the end of July, and though this had increased to 71% by the end of September, this was dependent on facility make-up. How far operations were required to run at reduced capacity to meet social distancing requirements in turn affected facilities’ financial viability, and 14% of facilities were expected to remain closed for an indefinite period.
- There is concern about the availability of school facilities for community use too. 65% of school facilities were available for community use pre-Covid-19, with estimates of 16,000 sports clubs and community groups previously using school facilities for grassroots sport. But amidst Covid-19, there are reports from NGBs and grassroots clubs that many schools are restricting access and re-purposing indoor facilities to create larger teaching spaces. We are conducting research with organisations to understand the scale of the issue.
- Anecdotal feedback is also reporting that many informal spaces like parks (and associated facilities) which grassroots sport and activity organisations depend upon, are not re-opening or are not allowing activities to continue on their premises, even when these are permitted by national guidance. This has included cases where sports’ or event providers’ national Covid-secure safety frameworks have been disregarded at a local level by local leaders, facility and land owners, and where local lockdown guidance has been published but not captured the nation-wide exemptions for organised team sports or exercise classes.
Q: What key measures could the Government introduce to increase the resilience of sports clubs and venues?
Embed sport and physical activity at the heart of local communities
- Community sport and activity generates £85.5 billion of social and economic value in England, supporting 285,000 jobs and preventing 900,000 cases of diabetes and 30 million GP visits as result of improved physical health. It is vital that our grassroots sport and activity infrastructure is protected as the key delivery mechanism for these benefits and more.
- There is an opportunity for grassroots sport and physical activity to be established as a key pillar operating at the heart of local communities. Local authorities who are invested in the health, wellbeing and social development outcomes that sport and activity generates may already be considering how they can build activity at the core of their future local systems, however many local authorities will not be giving any thought to the opportunities that Covid-19 presents for a ‘reset moment’ here.
- Amidst government’s priorities around levelling up, there may be a chance for hyper-local thinking to be encouraged as well, and for a further distribution of leadership to enable local leaders emerging through this crisis, to best meet the needs of their community. This includes community leaders within grassroots sport, and Government should consider how we retain the positive, collaborative behaviours that Covid-19 has encouraged locally, and how we avoid reverting to more siloed behaviours and decision-making.
- People have never been more concerned with their own personal health and the Government has a huge opportunity here to position activity and sport as a key public health message. As part of this messaging, not only do we need to reinforce the physical benefits that regular activity brings but also the huge impact it has in supporting mental wellbeing and many other essential and critical functions that extends way beyond sport and physical activity. Including building social cohesion, providing services to under re-presented individuals and communities such as Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, disabled people and lower socio-economic communities and the prominent part this can help play in supporting the wider levelling up agenda.
Increased financial support for sport and physical activity
- Sport England has provided more than £220 million of additional funding to support sport and physical activity providers through the ongoing pandemic. This includes:
There is a gap in financial support for those who are self-employed however, with many struggling to access government support. The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) reports that there are nearly 76,000 people working on a self-employed basis across the sector, including approximately 20,000 as sport coaches, instructors and officials – underpinning the delivery of grassroots sport across the country. However, as well as investing in the sport and wellbeing sector, Sport England has also provided funding to support the public in staying active and keeping people fit and ready for when the restrictions are lifted. This includes not just the aforementioned Join the Movement fund but also the We Are Undefeatable Campaign – which encourages people with long-term health conditions to keep active as a means of maintaining good health and wellbeing and, in some cases, managing symptoms and This Girl Can, which both received extra support during this period.
- £115m allocated to support circa 120 national partners by ‘rolling over’ for one further year their Sport England award from 2020/21.
- Up to £35 million allocated to the Community Emergency Fund – an open fund where awards of up to £10,000 could be applied for to support local clubs and community groups to survive the costs of the first period of lock down. This was hugely successful with over 11,000 applications reviewed and 7,500 awards made in just six weeks.
- £15m million ‘Tackling Inequalities Fund’ with awards made to key local partners to maximise the ability to support the activity of those in more socially deprived areas of the country.
- £55m for a variety of programmes designed to support further emergency support for key partners, and promote innovation in their sports.
- In October, Sport England dedicated a further £17.5 million to a new open ‘Return to Play’ support fund (including £1m for the Football Foundation to support community football clubs) to assist local sports clubs and community organisations to create a Covid-19 secure environment and to maximise the opportunity for people to be active.
- We have also invested £3m of National Lottery funding into the ‘Join the Movement’, a public campaign designed to demonstrate what activity is possible during lockdown and promote the benefits.
- Sport England has actively supported the business case development and now implementation and administration of the £100m funding package agreed by HMT for local authorities through to March 2021, to assist in maintaining the vital leisure centres and gyms/pools/ sports halls that form the bedrock of activity for local communities up and down the country.
- Sport England is also actively involved with DCMS officials in the creation of the business case and governance structure for the proposed support fund for those professional sports and clubs that have lost revenue as a direct consequence of the decision not to allow the return of spectators.
Efforts to transform NGBs’ business practices
- Many NGBs have sought to diversify their income over recent years, but the pandemic has revealed a risk associated with the development of more commercial revenue streams. These new means of income are newly established in many cases, and reserves have often been invested to initiate this new revenue streams but have not yet been replenished to their usual levels.
- The fall in membership numbers already mentioned presents a situation of further reliance on this unrestricted income in order to continue operations through the pandemic. As such, there may be a need to consider whether further income diversification by governing bodies should be encouraged, so that they might secure a sufficiently diverse portfolio of revenue streams to protect their activities against external shocks like Covid-19.
- There may also be an opportunity for new measures to be introduced granting governing bodies greater flexibility around reserves accumulation. At times of crisis and reduced income, reserves become a vital lifeline for organisations. Most NGBs do not carry significant reserves surpluses, and so can be heavily exposed to negative externalities such as the current pandemic or an economic downturn.
- Sport England’s current funding model incentivises them to spend all available funds within a specific timeframe, but it may be timely for Government to explore how we could incentivise more pragmatic decision making over a longer period – for example, encouraging the gradual accumulation of reserves so that NGBs have the ability to be more resilient in the face of future adversity. This would require greater flexibility regarding the current restrictions around Exchequer and National Lottery funding.
- Sport England is also exploring the potential for a range of shared services opportunities. There may be efficiencies to be gained through the joint design, procurement or delivery of particular systems, but bespoke requirements have caused challenges for collaboration here to date. Nevertheless, it may be a prospect to explore further as we look to the future.
Q: To what extent should elite professional sports support the lower leagues and grassroots, and how should Government make this happen?
- There is both a business case and a moral case to be made for revenue-generating elite and professional sport to support the lower leagues and grassroots of their respective games.
- Grassroots networks make a huge contribution to the most crucial piece of infrastructure that underpins the success of elite and professional programmes: their people. They play a clear and undisputable role in the development of talent, nurturing and upskilling young and less experienced athletes, coaches and officials who in time go on to enable, or directly contribute to, the world-class elite and professional sport that this country has to offer. The current and future success of elite and professional sports is fundamentally dependent on the strength, scale and security of their lower league and grassroots networks.
- Likewise, while there is clear economic value generated by elite sport, the depth and reach of sport’s social impact is overwhelmingly enabled by grassroots and community sport and activity. As above, recent research commissioned by Sport England into the social and economic return on investment of community sport and physical activity reported the combined economic and social value of people taking part in community sport and physical activity was £85.5 billion in 2017/18, of which £71.7 billion was social impact benefits.
- How far elite and professional sport should support their lower league systems and grassroots networks will be different for each sport and based upon their unique circumstances. The level of any support should be means-based, but there will be a need for some candour in how far respective sports are able to financially support their grassroots networks.